Last updated on: February 17, 2014 11:23 AM
ADDIS ABABA — The Ethiopian government says the co-pilot who commandeered an Ethiopian Airlines plane on Sunday was not facing persecution in his home country.
The 31-year-old suspect, Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, requested asylum after taking the plane to Geneva, Switzerland. Hailemedhin is now in Swiss custody.
Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Hussein says the co-pilot's actions do not make sense, as he had no criminal record in Ethiopia.
“As it is an Ethiopian Airlines pilot, he has several opportunities to apply for any airlines, withhold his dignity, and also he has a host of visas, including the Shengen-state visas. So he does not have to hijack his own plane and [get] himself into hot water," Redwan said.
The co-pilot, who had no medical record, had been working for Ethiopian Airlines for five years.
When the other pilot went to use the restroom on Sunday's flight, he locked the door and hijacked the plane.
If tried and convicted, the co-pilot could face up to 20 years prison in Switzerland.
Redwan says there is no bilateral extradition treaty between Ethiopia and Switzerland.
“Because this criminal act is a threat posed for all international community and for all countries, the Ethiopian government would actually mull it over as to how to go about it and we will let you know which action that we are going to take," he said.
The plane carried 193 passengers. None of them were hurt and no violence was used during the hijacking.
Ethiopian Airlines is Africa’s fastest growing airline and made a profit of $143 million in its last fiscal year.